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Gardens: It’s time to lose the plot… create a merry muddle of veg and flowers

The magnificent Kellie Castle in Fife provides inspiration for how a garden should work, with rhubarb nestled next to the roses
The magnificent Kellie Castle in Fife provides inspiration for how a garden should work, with rhubarb nestled next to the roses

Mixing beautiful blooms with crops in the garden borders offers so many advantages and, says ­expert Agnes Stevenson, it adds extra interest

A couple of weeks ago someone made the mistake of asking me about my favourite garden. I couldn’t stop at one, so I gave them the full list, along with all the reasons why I love them.

It was perhaps more than they were expecting to hear, but I don’t know how I could possibly whittle the gardens I’ve visited down to just one that stands head and shoulders about the others, because all of them have had something special I’ve taken away with me.

What I did notice, however, was that most of the gardens in my recital shared some similarities. They were all muddled spaces, whether grand or cottage-like, where fruit and flowers and house were all crowded together in one space.

While the Georgians and Victorians had great ideas about architecture, I’m not sure placing their gardens half a mile from their homes was one of the better ones. Why traipse all that distance to pick a dahlia when you could just lean out the window? That’s what you can do at Kellie Castle in Fife, a medieval structure that was later home to Sir Robert Lorimer, Scotland’s greatest architect of the Arts and Crafts era.

Here, rhubarb nestles next to the roses and delphiniums grow just a stone’s throw from the cabbages. And I think that’s how it should be. Vegetables are as decorative as flowers, in many cases, and there’s something about a well-drilled row of carrots that is very appealing.

And anyway, the flowers bring in pollinators, which help to boost yields amongst the edibles and the flowers also confuse predators, so growing them all together makes sense.

Try a stacking herb garden, with rosemary, next to a few annual pinks (Pic: Shutterstock / Daria Stock)

This year I’m aiming for a happy muddle in my own garden, with veg in pots and in the raised border and flowers sprinkled amongst them. I’m going to make stacking herb gardens, where pots of ever-decreasing sizes are placed on top of one other and then planted up with fragrant varieties. I’ll do one for the sun-worshippers, such as rosemary and thyme, with a few annual pinks squeezed in amongst them, and another filled with mint and parsley, which like damp roots and a bit of shade.

The look I’m going for is a bit of a riot, just before it tips over into an unkempt mess, so bits of topiary and a few evergreens will be an essential part of keeping things on the right side of disorder.

Climbers are vital to complete this picture. As well as wigwams smothered in sweet peas and beans, I want to start planting all the clematis I’ve been bringing on from small plants. If I can persuade them to scramble over the cherry tree or hitch a lift on the pyracantha scaling the south-facing wall, then I’ll be satisfied.

This isn’t everyone’s idea of horticultural heaven, some gardeners like a bit more order on the plot but, for me, a bit of floral chaos is my idea of bliss.